Short Stories

The Lady of the Books

My family and I live in a very high place, close to the sky. Our house is so high up that we hardly ever see anyone but hawks soaring and animals hiding among the trees.

My name is Cal and I am neither the oldest nor the youngest of the brothers. But as I am the older boy, I help my father to till and fetch the sheep when sometimes they escape. It also happens to me to bring the cow home at sunset, and I’m glad I do. It’s just that my sister Lark spends all day reading.

My dad always says there’s never been such a super-reading girl … It’s not like that with me. I wasn’t born to sit still and look at four doodles. And I don’t think it’s funny that Lark is a teacher, because the only school in town is miles from here and she is unlikely to get there. That’s why she wants to teach us. Only, to me, the school does not interest me!

I am always the first to hear the sound of hooves and see the mud-colored sorrel mare. I am the first to realize that the rider is not a man, but a lady with riding pants and a high head.

Of course we welcome the outsider with open arms, because there is no friendlier person. After sipping tea, she puts the saddlebags on the table and even looks like gold from inside. Lark’s eyes glow like coins, and my sister can’t keep her hands still, as if she wants to appropriate a treasure.

In fact, what you bring is no treasure, at least in my view. Are books! A bunch of books she alone carried up the slope. A whole day riding for nothing! That’s what I say! Because if she wanted to sell them, as does the brazier, who walks around with pots, frogs and other things, she would soon see that we don’t even have a penny to spend. Much less in old and useless books!

My father starts staring at Lark and clearing his throat. Then he proposes to the Lady of Books:

– We make a contract. In exchange for a book I give you a bag of raspberries.

I shake my hands tightly behind my back.

I want to talk, but I dare not. The raspberries, I picked them up… To make a pie, not to trade for a book! When I see you refuse, I even wonder. He won’t take a bag of raspberries, a vegetable sauce, or anything my father wants to offer you in return. Books do not cost money; They are free, like the air. On top of that, in a fortnight, you’ll be back to exchange them for others!

Here for me, whether you give me a book or you can’t find your way home. What amazes me is that even if it rains, there is snow or cold, it always comes back!

One morning the earth woke up whiter than our grandfather’s beard. The wind howled like a lynx in the darkness, and we all clenched before the hearth, for on such a day nobody does anything. With a weather like this, even the little animals of the forest let themselves be cozy.

Suddenly there was a tap on the window. It was the Lady of the Books, sheltered to the tip of her hair! He traded through the ajar door so we wouldn’t catch cold. And when my father asked him to sleep in our house, he was not convinced:

“The mare takes me away,” he said.

I gaped at her as she walked away. I thought you were a very brave person, and I wanted to know why the Lady of the Books risked catching a cold or worse.

I chose a book with letters and drawings and asked my sister Lark:

– Teach me what’s here, please.

My sister didn’t laugh or laugh at me. He found a cozy place and quietly read on.

My father often says that in the signs of nature it is written whether winter will last long or short. This year, all the signs announced very heavy snow and a tremendous cold. But even though we were home tight every day like tinned sardines, I didn’t care at all. For the first time.

It was not until spring that the Lady of the Books could visit us again. My mother offered her a gift, the only thing she could give her: her raspberry pie recipe, the best in the world.

“Not much, I know, for the great effort you make,” my mother said.

Then he lowered his voice and proudly added:

“And for getting two readers where there was only one!”

I bowed my head and waited for the end of the visit to comment:

“I’d like something to offer you too.”

The Lady of the Books turned and looked at me with her big black eyes:

“Come here, Cal,” he said very sweetly.

As I approached her, she asked:

– Read me something.

I opened the book I had in my hand, just arrived. Before, I thought it was four doodles, but now I can see what it contains.

And read a little out loud.

– This is my gift! Said the Lady of the Books.


  Author’s Note : This book is inspired by a true story, and chronicles the tireless work of horse librarians known as the “Ladies of Books” among the Kentucky Apaches. The Horse Library Project was created in the thirties of the twentieth century, in the context of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, with the purpose of taking books to isolated areas where there were few schools and no libraries. High in the mountains of Kentucky, the paths were often simple stream beds or rugged paths. On horseback or on mule, librarians walked the same arduous route every two weeks, loaded with books, whether it was good weather or bad weather. To show their gratitude for something that cost no money, “like the air,” families could give them something they had little: vegetables from their gardens, flowers or berries, or even appreciated recipes passed down from generation to generation. Although there were also some men in the Horse Library, it was usually women who did it, at a time when most people thought the woman’s place was at home. The librarians on horseback displayed extraordinary endurance and surrender. They earned very little, but were proud of their work: bringing the outside world to the Apache people and, on many occasions, becoming a reader who had never found any use in “four scribbles” before. In Kentucky, stream beds and paths turned into roads. Horses and mules have given way to library cars, which are the walking libraries these days. Dedicated to their task, librarians and librarians continue to bring books to those in need of them.

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